Recap: Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon.

Greetings, and salutations! Before I venture forth in my marathon recap, I would like to take this time to warn you readers that there will be a bit of profanity, and a photo that may or may not contain the largest blister one has ever seen.

If you’re still interested in reading, continue on.

Our Thursday night arrival was greeted with the lovely Katie Meyers, with her husband and family, as she was about to run her first marathon this weekend. Katie and I go back to college (her husband and I go back to Middle School—West Lake, WHATUP!?!), and she has been a dear friend of mine ever since. She also got me into racing, and she ran my first 10k with me two years ago followed by my first half marathon last year. She’s a fantastic runner and a force to be reckoned with. Also, she’s an amazing friend and superb drinking partner. I’m really not trying to sell you on all that is Katie Meyers, but I think I just did. BOOM.

Anywho, we met up at a bar near the Meyers’ estate which donned a moose and two pig sculptures in the front lawn. Awesome. Meyers clan, if I lived in walking distance from that glory, I would be there every night, and probably 76 pounds overweight. You two are neither of those things, and for that I congratulate you for your serious refrainment from the fried lovelies. And moose sculpture.

Speaking of animal sculptures in front lawns, Louisville has lots of those. I mean LOTS. Not just the jockey sculptures—I’m talking giant blue pegasus sculptures that I can only imagine be a bitch to move. And they weren’t just blue. These pegasus ponies were all colors and sizes. And obviously, situated in the front lawn. Because that’s where they’re supposed to go… Or something.

Continuing on.

After a lovely game of catch-up and quite possibly THE BEST NIGHT’S SLEEP IN EXISTENCE, we awoke on Friday to sunshiny weather, coffee, and a stripper on the local news team (true). The only thing on the agenda was simple: shake-out run, Expo. The end.

So we did that, first by running through the neighborhoods and commenting on how green Kentucky is.


After our failed attempt at foraging for wild mushrooms, we set off to the Expo at the Kentucky International Convention Center. Aside from popping a pimple, it was quite possibly the easiest procedure in the world. Packet pick-up and a visor purchase, for, at that moment, we weren’t quite sure what the weather gods would unfold on Saturday morning. But like the Boy Scouts of America say, always be prepared.

My parents arrived shortly thereafter, and met up with us at a local brewery for our pre-race luncheon. A couple of hours later, the Davis clan arrived, and this solidified our cheer squad for the weekend. There is nothing better than a group of family and friends gathering from all parts of the country (NC, Maine, NYC, and KY), for a race. We spent the rest of Friday evening carb loading at Bello Rosso, which served the largest pasta portions in the existence of restaurant-dom.

That's only THREE raviolis, people.

I was feeling pretty good, albeit nervous, and knew I was ready for marathon number 2 to go down in the books. I had a lot of reservations on this race. I knew I had a great training season and had gotten faster in my long distances. But how hard could I push myself? What was going to happen the first time I raced a marathon?

You see that? That’s a segway.

Race Day.

His Lordship and I awoke promptly at 5:45, and after applying 76 ounces of Vaseline and eating our pre-race bagels, we set off to the start line with Katie, Jordan, and Katie’s brother Chris. The start was located on Main Street, and was fairly easy to get to from our hotel. The weather ended up being perfect—46 degrees with overcast skies, reaching a high of 70 by the afternoon. Not too shabby for race day.

After shivering for a moment in our singlets (which Katie made for her and I in support of NMO research and for Kristin’s mom), we bid His Lordship adieu at Corral A and walked to our corrals further back. That was also when I  noticed that Corral A was significantly less packed than the rest of the corrals. Must be nice to be gazelles. Just sayin’.

I gave Katie a bear hug with well wishes, and found myself in Corral D with eleventy billion people. I noticed maybe two marathon bibs. The rest were half marathoners. And also children. Seriously, how old are you? Nine? What the H are you running a half mary?

Moving on.

I heard quite possibly the greatest rendition of the Star Spangled Banner (totally serious), and the next thing I knew, the gun went off. After seven minutes of waiting, I crossed the start, and found myself darting down Main Street at a decent pace. Regardless of dodging people for the first two to three miles, my legs felt amazing, and I knew things were in working order for me. My abdomen, however, was an entirely different story, and I didn’t know what to make of it.

The first seven miles were slightly blurry, as I was incredibly focused on moving around the half marathoners while trying to set into a comfortable race pace. My goal was to try and maintain a pace between 7:45-8:00 for as long as I possibly could, in hopes of having an average pace time anywhere between 8:00-8:30 at the finish. The spectating crowd was more decent than I expected—I knew this would be no Chicago, NYC, or Boston with millions of people out, but there were certainly more people out than normal for 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday.

Miles 1-7: 7:45; 7:28; 7:39; 7:46; 7:45; 7:56; 7:52

I found a groove and was managing a better average pace than expected, and the next thing I knew we had turned the corner toward Churchill Downs. We went through a tunnel and into the Grounds themselves, and I looked over to the track and saw the stands that people would be cheering on to watch the Derby. I managed to spot a horse training on a smaller track, and I got excited—this was incredibly surreal.

The marathoners and halfers split shortly after exiting Churchill, and as this was my first marathon with a half split, I naturally goofed up. “Oh, shit!,” I said to myself quietly, and made the direction toward Iriquois Park. In an instant, my course had become peaceful, as the majority of runners were signed up for the half. The spectating crowd had rapidly depleted, and the course in front of me was everything green and springtime.

The serene and quiet helped me realize I was losing energy, so I popped over to an aid station at mile 9 and ate my first Gu. My stomach handled it better than expected, and yet still felt a bit tight and awkward. I kept going, knowing that the Cheer Squad would be at Mile 10.

Awkward jazz hands slash chicken dance gesture.

And just like we planned, there was my family at mile 10 screaming and taking photos and cheering me on. I gave them jazz hands and waved, and went forward. I saw the pace car coming towards me not long after that—the lead two runners were coming back from the park. I clapped for them. A girl next to me said, “Man, they look great.” I agreed and we chatted about Boston and how she was only doing the relay—she couldn’t maintain that pace for a full marathon.

And that’s when things fell apart.

I felt a side stitch creeping into my right side, and I desperately tried to pull it together using deep breathing techniques. I saw a red tank top in the distance coming down from the park—it was His Lordship! I couldn’t have been happier to see him. He b-lined toward me and as we high-fived, I shouted that I was working through a cramp. He shouted, “GOOD LUCK!” and we went our separate ways.

Feeling the burn.

Then, like a bolt of lightning, that side stitch came in with a vengeance at mile 11, and I came to a screeching halt. I saw a man from Corral A waiting at the bottom of Iriquois Park for  someone, and I asked him for advice. “I’m sorry, there’s nothing you can do but work through it.”

“SHIT,” I exclaimed. To the small child I saw immediately following that statement, I apologize.

I started climbing the first of many hills in Iriquois Park. It wasn’t pleasant. I was walk/running. Every downhill agitated my stitch more, and it started creeping across my abdomen. Runners were passing me telling me that I could pull it together and do this, and while I was saying thank you, I was also shaking my head. I was so aggravated with the situation and had no idea of how to accomplish this.

Mile 12 ticked off and I wanted out. I vigorously massaged my side and started to cry when I saw the 3:50 pacers go by. Could I make it through the other half of the race while walking? I wasn’t sure I’d be able to run/walk again, let alone run at a reasonable pace.

Another mile of aggravation and devastation went by, and I saw a cop car by the mile 13 aid station. I contemplated having him take me to my folks at mile 17. I looked down at my wrist and saw my friendship bracelets and my shirt stating, “Running For Becky.” This was no time to quit. It was time to regroup and find new goals for the day.

Goal 1: Finish.
Goal 2: See if you can find a comfortable pace to run through the cramping.

I shuffled my feet and tried to pick up my pace as I exited Iriquois Park. I needed to make it to my cheer squad. I knew Katie was somewhere in the park, as I didn’t see her running in the opposite direction. I had more water at aid stations, thinking it would help the cramping issue. It didn’t. Neither did Gu. As the miles ticked off, the irritation started to subside. I knew at this point I could finish, but it would be a painful journey. I wanted to get to my family—I knew they would lift my spirits.

Miles 8-16 (WOOF): 7:56; 8:05; 8:09; 8:58; 10:43; 10:49; 11:51; 11:44; 11:13

I have never been so excited to see my family as I was when I saw them at mile 17. I hugged everyone, explained in a way resembling word vomit that I was running with bad cramps, and felt like shit. Kristin said, “EYE ON THE PRIZE! EYE ON THE PRIZE!,” and so I continued onward to try and find my stride again. I realized that contracting my abdomen was helping me numb out the pain.

By this point, I met up with the halfers at mile 18, who were at a walking pace. The crowds picked up, and more cheering was had, and I enjoyed those miles that were normally considered “The Wall” miles. I think I hit my wall at mile 11 and was just happy to be running again.

Around mile 20.5, we split off from the halfers again, and I found myself running on a wide open street in the middle of nowhere. I have no sense of direction in the city of Louisville, so I really didn’t know my ass from my elbow at this point—I couldn’t remember the names of the streets on course maps.

Then came the hills. The rolling hills of Barrett Ave. were a bitch. After I made it to the top of one, I looked at the downhill to see that an even steeper hill was up next. Exceptional. This continued for 3-4 (I lost count, and, OH YES, I walked a bit of the steep part) hills, all of which were lined with people saying, “This is the last hill!” No. No it isn’t. Why are you lying to me? You’re not my friend.

After what seemed like an eternity, I was craving mile 25 as I knew my family would be there, and I needed the extra oomph to get me through the finish. I still had one more mile until that point, and when I reached yet ANOTHER hill at mile 24, I saw a female cop propped up against her squad car and clapping.

“Last hill. Promise.”

“Seriously? Cause everyone keeps saying that.”

“I promise, this is it.”

THANK YOU KIND COP LADY FOR BEING HONEST. AND ACCURATE. That was the greatest news to hear! I was instantaneously filled with elation and glee.

At that point, I didn’t want to walk. What good would it do? Many moons ago (in actuality, it was two weeks ago), I mentioned to Katie that the pain you feel in miles 18, 19, 20, and beyond is the same. It won’t go away. So the best thing to do is continue as fast as you can so you can be done with it all. So I decided to take my own words of wisdom (I’m very wisdomess, you know), and radiated this thought through my head like a nagging parent.

I saw the mile 25 marker and no group of people resembling our cheer squad. I saw a bright red tank top coming toward me out of the corner of my eye. It was His Lordship! He was finished, obviously, and asked me how I was doing.

“My abdomen is f***ing killing me. I’ve had that lingering stitch since I saw you.”

He told me I looked great (thank you, and also, you’re a liar), and the finish was right around the corner. I asked if he PR’d, to which he responded that he did, and he would meet me at the finish.

I desperately looked for my family through the entirety of mile 25 with no luck. Then, I heard a faint shout coming to me from my left. I turned and saw my Dad, running through a parking lot, and ferociously waving at me. I turned around, ran to him and gave him a hug. He told me that Mom was across the street, and the rest of the cheer squad closer to mile 26.

I darted back across the street and shouted, “MOMMMM!!!!” She turned and looked at me and waved. I said, “I LOVE YOU!” and heard some spectators respond with “aw” and “that’s sweet.” I started to cry again. I was so happy that my folks had traveled to see me do the thing that I love, as crazy as it is, and they were about to see me finish. Up ahead was mile 26 and the rest of the clan, and I high fived all of them. It was time to get to the finish.

I turned the corner to… whatever street the finish was on (I didn’t care at that point), and saw the giant finisher shoot. I was about to complete my second marathon and in a time better than Chicago.

Pump it up.

Miles 17-26.2: 10:13; 10:20; 9:37; 9:23 (How Lewis Got Her Groove Back); 9:35; 10:05; 10:22; 11:47 (thank you, bitch of a hill); 9:28; 9:33

4:07:26, a 40 minute PR from my first marathon in October. I grabbed my medal (WITH A PEGASUS, NO DOUBT), copious amounts of water, laid in the grass with fiery abs, and waited for Katie, Chris, and our families. Other marathoners were laying in the grass around me with their feet propped up. No one looked upset or injured—this was the first time that I’ve seen a completely chill scene at the finish of a marathon. Maybe it had something to do with carnival rides and beer tents. I don’t know.

Katie finished her first marathon in a stellar 4:26 (natural born athlete, that one). I later found that His Lordship PR’d by 4 minutes, giving him a time of 2:54. Overachiever.

I later reflected on the marathon, and thought about what I was taking away from the overall experience. For starters, I was to take away a giant blister I didn’t know existed until I got in the shower.

You're welcome.

Also, I let my emotions get ahold of me over cramping when they shouldn’t have. A lesson to be learned. Although I would like to say I won’t ever do it again, I’ll make a more realistic assumption of collecting myself before getting worked up. Does that make sense? I think so.

All in all, I came out to Kentucky and did exactly what I had hoped to do: I raced a marathon while enjoying myself on the course (aside from my hissy fit). That was my number one goal and priority. I also got to spend time with my family and friends. And eat barbecue. And drink bourbon. All of those things make me a happy Abbe Lew.

I hope to progress at marathon racing in the future, and like so many of my other friends, qualify for the big dance in Boston. But for now, I think I’ll take some time off and enjoy myself with lots of cheese eating and wine drinking.

Many thanks to all of you for the love, well wishes, and continual support.

And to Super Cheer Squad Extraordinaire—to my folks, Mr. and Mrs. Wilkes, Chris Wilkes, Kristin and Adam Davis—Many thanks for being the most extreme cheer force in existence. You guys camped out all day long to watch three of us do what we do, and for that you are greatly appreciated.

Tah Dah! Katie, Kristin, Adam, and yours truly.


11 responses to “Recap: Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon.

  1. Congratulations on your PR! And also getting through all those tough miles. Hitting a Wall at Mile 11 is probably the worst thing ever….but YOU TOTALLY MADE IT WORK!! I’m jealous of your rebounding skillz.

  2. Weird, I think I got some dust in my eye as I was reading that part about seeing your family at the very end… Gotta just wipe that away…
    Dude, you’re a badass. Look at those splits, and how you reigned that shit in during the late miles, even when you felt like ass. I’m tremendously impressed, and proud.
    Weird, there’s more dust in my eye as I think about your progress and success…

  3. Congrats!!! You killed it. I still don’t know why race planners love to put those hills in there. Best line? “Go as fast as you can so you can be done with it all.” – So true. You are amazing and I love how you got your groove back. Impressive and not many people do that! Way to go!

  4. HUGE congrats on your PR! 4:07 is AWESOME and the fact you did that with having so much stomach pain is incredible. So proud of you, Abbe Lew!

    And thanks for the beautiful picture of your blister, btw. 😛

  5. Congrats, lady!! This was so fun to read and I think you are awesome. I’ve never had a side stitch last that long – I can’t even imagine. However, I can imagine lots of pain early in a marathon and how much it takes to push through and not stop. Not easy, to say the least. Love the blister. TIme for dinner now! yummm…

  6. Very belated but still huge CONGRATS! Awesome job, especially so because it wasn’t easy and you still toughed it out.

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